Mineral Collection Appraisal Basics
by Leonard Himes in Tucson Mineral, Vol.2 #1
When do you need a professional appraisal of your collection?
The simple answer is when you decide to sell it, donate it, or insure it. Even though you know what you paid, you probably don’t know its current value. A well known smalltime dealer sold his collection for his asked price a few years ago and was heartsick when he saw the very high prices the purchaser was able to realize for his specimens. He could have asked for more if he had known,
Conversely, collectors often so over value their collection (their babies!) that no dealer is willing to buy it. To sell a collection as a whole correctly, you need to know its real value and understand the price a dealer can pay to be able to retail it.
If you decide to donate your collection to a museum or other institution, you must have a current professional appraisal in order to reap tax benefits. You are responsible for the appraisal. See your tax adviser, use Form 8283, and see IRS Publication 526 for the rules. Even if you are not seeking a deduction, the donee will want to know the honest value.
If your collection is of high value, insurance is a good idea. The insurance agency will require a professional appraisal and you will want to have the detailed inventory with photos to assist authorities in the event of a theft.
Just in case you’ve never told your spouse what your minerals really cost, be sure an appraisal is included with your important financial papers in a safe place. There are horror stories of trade collections that heirs though had been purchased for very little but were very valuable.
For any of these needs, expect to pay an appraisal fee, IRS requires a paid appraisal. Many dealers provide appraisals or can direct you to an appraiser.
Interview prospective appraisers, check their credentials, and learn how often they do appraisals. Establish the payment details up front and sign a contract. Expect to pay for travel expenses and an hourly fee that may be substantial, but you should never pay based on a percentage of the appraised collection value. An average fee is around $1000 per day plus expenses.
Further, understand that any two appraisers are likely to assigned somewhat different values to the same specimen. This depends on their personal experiences with that species and knowledge of locality rarity. We all have personal biases that have an effect, too. For a high value collection, having more than one appraisal might be wise. You will probably find that the individual pieces will have some variance in value but the total collection value will be nearly the same from experienced appraisers.
I know there are folks who won't own a repaired specimen. But, it's hard to argue against the specimen preservation that results from a job like this. What were the pieces worth before, both monetarily and esthetically, contrasted with the result? Which piece would you like in your collection?
The director and curator to the new Maine Mineral Museum seem happy about the results on their Maine aquamarine specimen, shown as I received it on the left. You can probably guess that this was not an inexpensive job. They thought I was worth it, so they sent more three more beryls to repair. Thankfully, they were smaller.
Here are before and after photos of two recent jobs. The Spinel shows the results of cleaning and an inexpensive trim for more crystal exposure and re-orientation. The morganite shows the benefit of removing excess matrix and reshaping the base to allow the specimen to sit nicely without a stand so that the crystal is emphasized. The incomplete edge of the crystal was restored as well. Restoration is requires more time than trimming, so this job was more expensive, but under $500. Surely, the value of either specimen increased by more than the preparation fee.
More on Appraisals
Very few fine specimens come out of the ground intact, the earth moves a lot and erosion takes it's toll. That's why pristine specimens cost so much! But, miners frequently find all, or most, of the pieces of specimens, if they are careful. Then they send them to labs like mine to be reassembled.
Below are before and after photos of a Hiddenite, NC emerald specimen. The erosion of the southern Piedmont results in a very small number of complete crystals and almost never a matrix specimen. These pieces were cleaned, reconnected, and gaps filled with color-matched epoxy. Because the pieces did not fit exactly, this was not a simple repair, but was a restoration. That sort of work takes more time, but this job still only cost about $500.
Here is a challenging job I just returned to a happy customer. The specimen is a Pakistani aquamarine on matrix. It had been assembled from pieces in Pakistan and sold to my customer. He recognized that the repair was not well done and brought it to me. I could see that broken areas of the crystals had been filled with crushed feldspar and the repaired crystals had not be properly aligned. The photos below show the pieces soaking in an acetone bath that dissolved the glue, revealing the pieces. The next photo shows the completed repair and reconstruction. Yes that is a doubly terminated crystal at the top that happened to run into the other crystal and become artached naturally.
I provide appraisals of mineral collections for sale, insurance, donation, or just to help you keep your records current. Contact me and I will send you appraisal details and suggestions. Scroll to the bottom of this page for an article I wrote on appraisals.
I can consult with you on specimen display, strategies for building an important collection, and methods for disposing of a collection. I can also advise you on field collecting and establishing a specimen preparation facility or mineral business.
I clean, trim, and repair mineral specimens for myself, other dealers, museums, and individual collectors.
I have had a busy 2020-21 in the lab with many new satisfied customers, and I thank everyone for their business. I have enjoyed working for you and developed some new restoration techniques in the process.
I'm busy finishing jobs to be delivered this autumn or at the shows in Tucson. I regret that I can't schedule any additional work this year. Inquiries are okay to plan future work. You are invited to bring specimens to Tucson so we can plan the work together and I will prepare them in the Spring of 2022.
Please contact me by email or phone if you need work done. I can discuss it with you. Please do not send any specimens without prior contact. You can also bring your specimens to any show to discuss them with me and avoid the risk of mailing them.
It is amazing what can be done to improve imperfect specimens. Expert preparation improves esthetics, value, and saleability of specimens. If you have specimens that you think could be made better, please contact me. We can plan the job together. I accept and return specimens by mail, at shows, or in Monument. The latter choices save shipping costs and risk of damage in transit.
My lab has the equipment to do almost everything and I've been doing this for decades. Preparation can cost as little as $60 for simple things. Big jobs can take a while and are billed at $120/hour for the actual bench-work time. I limit myself to specimens no larger than those I can easily handle, about 30 pounds, the aquamarine at the bottom of this page was at the limit. I try to return specimens quickly, but I work alone in the lab, and insist that each piece gets the time it deserves..
This large (about 10 inch) Kelly Mine smithsonite needed some cleaning and surgery to remove excess matrix, broken edges and blemishes. This job cost a few hundred dollars. Do you think it was worth it? Note that the 'after' photo is rotated
about 20 degrees counterclockwise.
Leonard Himes Dealer in Fine Mineral Specimens
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